Subaru Motors was honored at the National Association of Transmission Awareness (NATA) Wednesday with an award celebrating their work towards encouraging acceptance of the Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT.
NATA President Sy Sperling presented the award, stating “Subaru’s push for mainstream acceptance of CVTs demonstrates their commitment that the two traditionally dominant transmissions – planetary automatics and clutch-based manuals – should not be the only driving forces in the automotive world. Amid a plethora of options, we commend Subaru’s support of the notion that fixed gear ratios are not the only acceptable form of transmitting a motor’s power to the wheels.”
Subaru’s engineering team graciously accepted the award at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center Wednesday night, with Chief Engineer Shinjuku Eki explaining (via a translator), “10 or 15 years ago, these transmissions were on the fringe of car society. However, thanks to Subaru’s work, as well as from other companies such as Nissan, we have overtaken the manual transmission as the #2 choice of consumers in 2019.”
While Subaru’s success was not solely due to their own efforts – manual transmissions were already declining before the CVT was introduced – their work has still been key to an important shift in cultural perceptions.
The automotive enthusiast community, which leans heavily toward the traditional manual, has not been as encouraging.
“Look, we all know that manuals are the most engaging way to drive,” claims Marty Fryer of the Colorado-based club Citizens Against CVTs. “And I’ll even drive a dual clutch automatic from time to time. But for CVTs to even think they’re as good as a slushbox [traditional automatic] is a joke. It’s just not right. Fixed gear ratios are a normal thing in every automotive culture since the beginning of time.”
Colorado has long been a battleground for CVTs, especially since it represents over 97% of all Subarus sold worldwide. That cultural clash makes it the most likely flashpoint for pro- and anti-CVT groups alike.
“The CVT people even wanted to take down the big statue of a gearshift at the base of Pike’s Peak,” Fryer continued. “Even though almost all of the hillclimbers are using fancier transmissions these days, there’s no reason we can’t honor our history.”
“The manual transmission is not our history,” contends Kellen Wheeler, 23, of Denver. “Every car I’ve ever driven has been a CVT. I don’t have the first clue about manual transmissions and I don’t see any reason to learn. They just seem like forced labor, and we should not be honoring such a dark time in our nation’s automotive history.”
Despite the ongoing controversy, the majority of the nation’s car buyers are pro-CVT. In a recent Gallup poll, 73% of all American say they would “definitely consider” or “have no problem with” a CVT-equipped car. That number jumps to 94% for respondents under the age of 25.
NATA President Sperling prefers to take a more moderate approach to the discussion.
“I don’t think people should be so obsessed with which shafts are going in and out of what, or at what speed or ratio. As the old saying goes ‘Every transmission has a fluid, and they all stink’,” adding “At the end of the day, the car is moving forward and we’re here to celebrate that.”